Pistol Basics: The Casino Drill

Don't Let Those Shapes Fool You

The Casino Drill is a well-known handgun drill involving six simple “kindergarten” shapes, 21 rounds of ammo and 21 seconds. It’s probably one of the best known exercises connected to Tom Givens and his Rangemaster school of firearms training. I’ve known about this drill for years but had never taken the time to try and and recently, I got my hands on a few of the drill’s “official” targets and gave it a [few] shots. I took my pair of Glock 34s to shoot the exercise as one is set up with a red-dot and the other isn’t. Besides the fact that I’ve been working with them, writing about them and shooting them lately, I wanted to see how shooting the drill with or without made a difference. (In this case, it didn’t matter too much).

How The Casino Drill Works

Like many of the drills I cover in my “Pistol Basics” series, the Casino Drill is also a fairly simple drill that doesn’t require much to set up. Carrying out the Casino Drill successfully only requires a pistol, three magazines, magazine carrier(s) to hold at least two magazines, 21 rounds of pistol ammo and a shot timer. The exercise is carried out at five yards, shot from concealment and includes a par-time of 21 seconds. It goes without saying that a concealment holster is also needed. Officially, it’s shot on the full-sized Discretionary Command Training Target (DT-2A/B/C). 

The DT-2A/B/C consists of six different shapes: two pairs of triangles, two pairs of circles and two pairs of squares. All four polyguns and both circles found in each target will be six inches tall or six inches wide; each shape will also have a random number ranging from 1 to 6. Finally any shape can be one of three colors: red, blue or yellow. The numbers printed on these shapes are the most important aspect of the drill as far as its round count and shooting order go. 

Prior to starting, the shooter loads seven rounds into one of the mags and loads their pistol and holsters it. The two remaining magazines are also loaded with seven rounds each. On the timer’s start signal, shooters need to locate the #1 shape on their target and fire one shot. They must immediately transition to the #2 shape and fire twice, find the #3 shape and fire three times, then move to the fourth shape and fire four times, and so on until each shape receives the requisite number of rounds in the correct order. If the Casino Drill is cleaned, each shape will match the number of shots to its printed number. Because all three magazines are loaded with only 7 cartridges, the shooter will have to reload twice. This is intentional because the entire point of the drill is to force the student to “think with the gun in their hand.” While shooting Casino Drill, students not only need to process the mechanics of drawing and shooting, but they also need to visually process what they’re shooting at and how many times they’re doing so. On top of that, they will need to manage two extra events, (the reloads) without allowing these to become too distracting and detract from the task at hand which is shooting each shape in the correct order with the correct amount of rounds.  

Glock 34 Casino Drill
The aftermath of nine attempts with both of my Glock 34 MOS pistols. Pardon the darker picture, it was right at sunset and cease-fire time at the gun club.

Targets And Order Variations 

The single biggest issue with the Casino Drill is that after many repetitions, the shooter can memorize the firing order and cues to reload which makes the exercise lose some of its efficacy as far as keeping students on edge and processing information. As a result, the official Casino Drill target is offered in three different permutations. Each has a different combination of shapes and numbers in every spot. Moreover, both instructors and students like to get creative and change some of the drill’s parameters and order. For example, some will load magazines with more or fewer rounds (as long as the total is still 21). Others will use the shapes themselves or their colors and incorporate them into drill too to change up the standard 1-2-3-4-5-6 shooting order. There are many examples out there but the object is to always stimulate thinking and processing while shooting. Mr. Given’s original thoughts on the Casino Drill can be read in this old newsletter he wrote. 

Besides changing the order, shapes numbers or anything mentioned above, there are those who like to change the distance and the target itself, such as shooting the six shapes on a much smaller 8 ½ x 11 inch sheet of paper at three yards (see Mini Casino Drill from Greg Ellifritz). This can be as much from convenience as it can to change up the standard Casino Drill. But the goal remains the same: thinking and processing under time pressure. 

The Takeaway

casino drill glock 34
One of the reasons I DNF.

After the ordeal of shooting several attempts at the Casino Drill, I failed to clean it even once. Of course I could have “slowed down to get my hits” but that would have been a waste of honest and reasonable effort. The Casino Drill is very strict concerning misses and there can’t be any in order to clean it. At the range, I went for nine attempts frankly because that’s how much ammo I had on hand; I also wanted to get a good feel for this new-to-me drill in order to write this. Out of my nine attempts, I failed to finish three due to egregious errors. The rest were carelessly dropped shots because I didn’t keep my support hand tension in check, especially after reloading. One of the tells is seeing the cluster of missed shots right below target #6.

I compiled my “scores” if you can call them that below. Attempt #8 was shot with the iron-sight Glock 34 and given how massive the shapes are at 5 yards, I don’t think the lack of a red-dot was a defining variable. Could a red-dot provide an advantage? I think it depends on the shooter and their skill level because this exercise focuses on so many variables. Some are apparent and some are more subtle. Frankly, the shot timer’s pressure causes temporary amnesia.   

  1. DNF
  2. 13.57 (fail)
  3. 16.27 (fail)
  4. DNF
  5. 14.17 (fail)
  6. DNF
  7. 14.29 (fail)
  8. 13.51 (fail, shot with iron sights Glock 34)
  9. 12.83 (fail)

Shooting the Casino Drill with maximum effort was a humbling experience. One of my biggest errors was allowing the large, basic shapes and the close distance of five yards to lull me into a false sense of security. After putting out my current best effort, it’s clear that executing on the Casino Drill at a high level and with serious competence requires every fiber of the shooter’s being, focus and concentration. Most of the shooting public cannot clear it in 21 seconds and there’s a reason why Mr. Givens established that as the official par time The ability to clean it at 12-15 seconds or less is demonstrative of above-average defensive handgun skills. Past that, navigating into clean runs below twelve seconds is evidence that the shooter’s skill lies 3 standard deviations to the right of the bell curve. Getting to that level requires perfection and economy of motion in nearly everything: drawing to first shot, trigger control, firing hand grip, support hand grip, target transitions, reloads while mentally managing the correct round count and firing order. I’d even argue that even if one “memorized” the motions, consistently shooting clean runs below 10 seconds is still something to be in awe of.

The current world record is 9.04 seconds and here’s my friend Sean pulling it off

Edited to add: Sean actually dropped me a note and told me that missed shots add one second to the total time/score. I previously overlooked this detail.

P.E. Fitch
I am a shooter first, and a writer second. IG & Twitter: @pfitch45